Why is Kannon so popular in Japan?

I have difficulty believing it’s a major factor, but a recent very insightful piece on BBC Radio 3 about Christmas in Japan mentioned in passing that many secret Christians in the Tokugawa period transferred their affection for Mary mother of Christ to this (usually) female Buddhist Bodhisattva, also known as Kwannon in Japanese and Guanyin in Chinese.

The relevant Wikipedia page also has a brief mention of that use of Kannon statues, along with the details “During the Edo Period in Japan, when Christianity was banned and punishable by death, some underground Christian groups venerated Jesus and the Virgin Mary by disguising them as statues of Kannon holding a child; such statues are known as Maria Kannon. Many had a cross hidden in an inconspicuous location.”

However, the popularity of this figure is by no means limited to Japan, so I can’t imagine that had a large impact overall.

In case you’re wondering, yes that is where the company Canon got its name from.

 

Why do Japanese secondhand media shops have overpriced DVDs that no one ever buys?

A lot of the tacky ones on main streets that I’m speaking about seem to basically be porn shops, so I’m guessing they need a certain amount of non-sex-related product to not be classified as sex shops, because if that happened they’d have to conform to more legal constrictions (as in most countries).

Why don’t the Japanese worry about crying wolf?

The Aesop’s fable of the boy who cried wolf too many times for attention and then wasn’t believed when it really happened it well enough known in Japan. However, the authorities doesn’t seem to have understood the moral of the story. To give a few of numerous examples:

- Escalator announcements sometimes tell you to hold onto the handrail, not to walk on the escalator, to be careful in case they suddenly stop, to stand within the yellow lines and not to take on pushchairs

- Every station in Japan has apparently spent every day in the last ten years or so on an extra high security alert

- The news warns you of the danger of something virtually every day, including the danger of getting a cold because the weather is dry (meaning not humid)

The Japanese being humans, they basically switch off and ignore all of the warnings just the same as I do. There are examples of the government noticing this, including a more detailed list of categories of typhoons so people actually take the serious ones seriously, but even those tend not to work as the news programmes hype up each and every storm so much that the actual data of the warning level gets lost.

The reason why Japanese in charge suffer even more than most from crying wolf seems to be that in Japan you always have to do your best and put safety first (“anzen daiichi”), and that leads to warning everybody about everything in a way that has the exact opposite effect.

Why is Tokyo full of unused landing piers?

Tokyo is full of almost unused canals and canal-looking river with lots of unused piers on them, many attached to office buildings (including new ones) but permanently locked. I have a feeling they must be there for disaster relief, as the canals will probably be easier to move around than many roads will be after a big earthquake or similar.

Why don’t Japanese dogs bark?

That’s an exaggeration of course, but it’s generally amazing how quiet and well behaved they are – so much so that I’m almost certain the owner of the two barky dogs next to Yokohama International School in Yamate must be foreign. According to a few websites the Shiba-ken (called “Shiba-inu” for some reason in English) is a breed that rarely barks anyway. However, not running and barking at all and sundry (not even foreigners!) like in the UK, Turkey, Thailand and virtually everywhere I’ve lived certainly doesn’t seem to be breed-specific in Japan. Do they have some dog training tricks which Google hasn’t managed to find for me?

Why is there no online list of the biggest islands in Japan?

I was recently looking for a top ten list, but instead got hundreds of sites telling me the rather obvious fact that the big four islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku and nothing more. There is a top ten list on Japanese language Wikipedia, but a bit of digging revealed that things are much more complicated than that list would suggest, perhaps also explaining why there is no English language equivalent. That list is:

  1. Honshu
  2. Hokkaido
  3. Kyushu
  4. Shikoku
  5. Etorofu-to
  6. Kunashiri-to
  7. Okinawa Honto
  8. Sadogashima
  9. Amami Oshima
  10. Tsushima

The fact completely hidden in that list is that numbers 5 and 6 are claimed by and administered Russia, the latter being a factor that Japan is only too keen to stress the importance of when it comes to island disputes with China. If we exclude those two, that brings Awaji and Amakusa Shimoshima into the list. We could also argue that Tsushima shouldn’t be there as it has been split into two by canals, in which case Yakushima would make into the top ten. Most likely top ten with area in km2 and other versions of their names plus alternatives for the list below:

  1. Honshu – 225,800 km2
  2. Hokkaido- 78,719 km2
  3. Kyushu – 37,437 km2
  4. Shikoku – 18,545 km2
  5. Okinawa Honto (Okinawa Shima, Okinawa Island) – 1,206 km2
  6. Sadogashima (Sado Island) – 855 km2
  7. Amami Oshima – 712 km2
  8. Tsushima (Tsushima Island) – 709 km2
  9. Awaji-shima (Awaji Island) – 593 km2
  10. Shimoshima (Amakusa Shimoshima, Shimo Island) 574 km2

Other possible entries

Etorofu-to (Iturup) – 3,139 km2 – administered and claimed by Russia

Kunashiri-to (Kunashir Island) – 1490 km2 – administered and claimed by Russia

Yakushima – 524 km2

The top four are the 7th, 21st, 37th and 50th biggest islands in the world, according to Wikipedia.

Why is it okay for women to obsess over cross dressing female Takarazuka actors?

Japan hardly being famous for open expression of homosexual love.

“girls and women are given both implicit permission and active encouragement to love other women – specifically, the male-role players – under the pretext that this affection is not (homo-)sexual in nature, because the object of their love is ‘male’, and therefore does not compromise the subjects’ ‘normal’ sexuality. On the other hand, the very fact that Takarazuka otokoyaku are not biological males means that they are apparently not usually perceived by the husbands of married fans as rivals, nor by the parents of single fans as a threat to the marriageability of their daughters.” Gender Gymnastics pg7

That still leaves a big “Why?” unanswered to me…

See the last couple of posts for more from this book on this fascinating phenomenon.

Why would anyone get obsessed by the Takarazuka all-female theatre?

… particularly the otokoyaku who play the male roles.

“Recent Anglophone scholarship has addressed this issue at length through one specific focus- that of sexuality. Two opposing opinions emerge- that the main attraction of Takarazuka for its fans is sexual… (Robertson 1998b, 145) or that it is ‘a-sexual and a-gendered’ (Nakamura and Matsuo 2003, 59)…”

“The Takarazuka otokoyaku’s portrayal of masculinity is different from that of a typical man, sometimes seeming sexless or gender-neutral, sometimes deliberately seductive and erotic.” Gender Gymnastics pg9

Being both at the same time seems not only possible but also particularly East Asian, with most all-female J-pop and K-pop groups somehow both sexy and sexless. The real appeal lies in this, though, I reckon:

“For many women, Takarazuka is also a place of respite from a boring, unpleasant or unfulfilling everyday existence as a female in Japanese society.” pg 7

making it similar to the reki-jo (history girl) phenomenon more recently.

Why does the Takarazuka all-female theatre exist?

Unlike what I’d read about being set up simply to keep a private rail line busy, it seems that it didn’t come out of nowhere:

“Takarazuka is one example of a distinct genre within twentieth-century Japanese popular culture, the ‘all-female revue (shojo kageki)’, composed of a number of different performance groups with common features.” Gender Gymanistics pgs 3 and 4

Don’t have the book here to check if it’s exactly the same, but the whole thesis on which it was based seems to be available in pdf format for free here:

http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/349/2/02Whole.pdf

 

 

Why don’t Japanese cyclists obey the rules?

I keep on coming back to this question, because there seems to be such a change between Japanese on foot, on two wheels and on four. For example, cyclists jumping red lights where pedestrians and motorists never would, cycling with umbrellas, ignoring one-way signs on streets, and protests against changing a law against more than one child seat.

I wonder whether cycling became  popular during a chaotic period in Japanese period like Taisho or just after WWII.

Much more on this topic by clicking on the Japanese cyclists category above.

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